[language] Parts of speech confusion

O mighty LJ brain, hear my plea. I have confused myself anent matters grammatical.

There’s a construction in English whereby nouns convert to adjectives through being modified with an /-ed/ affix, as if they were verbs being conjugated into the simple past. For example:

one eyed
lop eared
left handed
many splendored
fruited plains
strait jacketed

Most of the examples I can think of are related to body parts or clothing, but not all of them. Some examples can be explained as verb forms (“strait jacketed”), but, for example, I can’t make “lop eared” be a verb in my head.

Why are we conjugating nouns into adjectives? Can someone give me the remedial grammar 101 on this?

One thought on “[language] Parts of speech confusion

  1. Jaws says:

    It’s the converse of nominalization. As a smartass student in my first-year legal writing class (who had more experience writing legal documents than did the instructor, and was nearly a decade older), I pointed out that “nominalization” is a nominalization.

    In the end, what this really reflects is a loosening of formal grammar rules and the borrowing — nay, assault and battery — approach of modern speakers to vocabulary. If we find a word that is onomatopoetically appropriate and whose meaning is appropriate in one grammatical context, we tend to be lazy and import that word to other grammatical contexts (instead of going to a dictionary or thesaurus and looking up the Mrs-Grundy-approved equivalent… and probably losing a few shades of meaning in the process).

    On the whole, I think this is a good thing. One of the reasons that English has become a scientific lingua franca (puns intended) is the flexibility of its grammar and the absence of stupid gender rules… and I say this as a native speaker of another language. There isn’t a good semantic reason for imposing gender or strict SVO/VSO word-order, or indeed anything else; and one of the first things that one learns when studying formal grammars is that meaning gets conveyed best when semantics and syntax are at least parallel, if not indistinguishable.

    Besides, without transformations like these it’s harder — not impossible — to insert at least one pun in every paragraph. And that would be a crying shame.

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